July 20, 2018
When you think of becoming a dentist, most likely you think of the general, or family dentist who provides a wide range of dental care from teeth cleanings and fillings to root canals and implants.
While 8 out 10 dentists practice general dentistry, the profession expands much farther than the general dentist. As with other areas of medicine, there are many specialized areas of training in which dental students can begin thinking about pursuing, even before applying to dental school.
For patients, dental specialists provide unique value in a comprehensive approach to dental care. While general dentists can provide routine care and several advanced types of treatments, they often will refer their patients to specialists when patients need a level of care that can’t be provided in their office.
If you choose to become a dental specialist, you will be equipped with highly specialized training to offer those patients the precise type of treatment that is needed.
Why become a dental specialist?
First, let’s define what it means to be a dental specialist. According to the American Dental Association (AMA):
Here are the specialties recognized by the ADA:
Dental Public Health
Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis. (Adopted May 1976)
Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions. (Adopted December 1983)
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations. (Adopted May 1991)
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted April 2001)
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted October 1990)
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures. (Adopted April 2003)
Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. (Adopted 1995)
Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues. (Adopted December 1992)
Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. (Adopted April 2003)
What is the job outlook for dental specialists?
The job outlook for dentists and dental specialists is strong. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, employment of dentists is projected to grow 19% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Based on 2017 BLS data, the median income for general dentists is $158,120. Orthodontists and oral & maxillofacial surgeons are at the top of the list of the highest paying occupations, each earning at least $208,000 annually, according to the BLS occupational outlook handbook.
Oral surgeons are consistently the highest earning dental specialists, according to an ADA Health Policy Institute report.
What are the additional training requirements?
Dentists must complete a four-year dental program to obtain either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Before entering a dental school program, applicants must have completed at least two years of college with preferences typically given to those who possess a bachelor’s degree.
To become a specialist, dental school graduates can opt for additional training, either in general practice dentistry or in one of the nine recognized advanced dental education specialties. In some cases, graduates can also pursue a board certification with additional specialized practice and training.
The application process
Most postdoctoral programs use the ADEA Postdoctoral Application Support Service (ADEA PASS) to facilitate program applications. This standardized application process make it easier to apply to multiple programs.
Dental Specialty Training at UIC
The University of Illinois College of Dentistry offers six post-graduate specialty programs for qualified dentists to thoroughly prepare for a future career in each field.
With comprehensive didactic training, extensive clinical experience, research opportunities, and leadership development, each program offers a unique opportunity for participants to receive a well-rounded preparation. Many post-graduate programs include substantial portions that are dedicated to cutting-edge research contribution.
Upon completion of each program, a Certificate in the respective specialty is awarded. An optional Master of Science in Oral Science degree is available and can typically be completed concurrently with the certificate.
Some programs require a tuition. Financial aid, stipends or revenue sharing programs from provided services are available to cover their cost and living expenses.
Applicants to each of these programs must possess a DDS, DMD or equivalent degree. Each option is accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation.
Below you will find an overview of each program along with helpful information from current or former UIC residents including tips for getting accepted, what to expect, insightful information about each specialty and more.
The UIC Department of Endodontics is at the forefront of endodontics research, innovation and technology and was one of the first institutions in the world to have an endodontic microscopy teaching laboratory. The department is staffed by leading endodontics professors and researchers.
The department’s post-graduate Clinical Specialty Program in Endodontics is full-time and requires 24 months (2 years) to complete. A Master of Science (M.S.) degree is available in a combined program for select students who meet graduate college requirements. The program includes endodontically focused research opportunities, advanced clinical training in the full scope of modern endodontic practice, teaching opportunities, formal lectures and seminars, and laboratory courses.
Upon completion, participants are awarded a Certificate of Completion in Endodontics, meeting the educational requirements of the American Board of Endodontics.
UIC Advanced Dental Education Program in Endodontics
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Clinical Specialty Program in Endodontics program page.
The UIC Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery is a leader in its contribution to groundbreaking surgical research. It is highly sought after as one of the few centers offering state-of-the-art technology including advanced pre-surgical and surgically assisted imaging.
The department’s post-graduate Oral and Maxillofacial Residency Training Program is full-time and offers two options: a 4-year Certificate program and a 6-year combined OMFS-MD degree and Certificate program. A Master of Science degree in Oral Sciences (M.S.) is available for residents of the 4-year program who wish to complete one concurrently with their training.
Both programs encompass the full scope of oral and maxillofacial surgical training. They include a comprehensive and well-rounded didactic curriculum, extensive inpatient and outpatient clinical experience on rotations at several local medical centers, exposure to the three fellowship areas of oral and maxillofacial surgery and required research participation.
Clinical experience sites include Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Christ Hospital, the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center, the University of Illinois Medical Center and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Outpatient Clinic at the UIC College of Dentistry.
Participation in oral surgery research is integral to this program. Residents are expected to prepare and submit at least one academic paper to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, or significant participation in established faculty research can satisfy the requirement.
The program accepts 3 applicants per year: The 4-year program is open to 2 residents every year, while the 6-year combined OMFS-MD degree program is open to only 1 resident per year.
Upon completion, participants in the 4-year program are awarded a Certificate of Proficiency. Participants in the 6-year OMFS-MD program are awarded a Medical degree (M.D.) and a Certificate for an Internship in General Surgery at the UIC College of Medicine.
UIC Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency Training Program
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency Training Program page.
The UIC Department of Orthodontics was founded in 1929 for the purpose of offering graduate education in orthodontics. Since then, the department has become a leading contributor to orthodontic research and features cutting-edge equipment including a modern clinic and laboratories for data-processing, microscopy, photography, appliance construction and plaster work.
The department’s post-graduate Orthodontics Advanced Specialty Training Program is full-time and requires a minimum of 32 consecutive months of attendance to complete (2 years and 8 months) the Certificate in Orthodontics and Master of Science in Oral Sciences degree.
The program fully prepares residents for certification by the American Board of Orthodontics. The curriculum includes lectures, clinical experiences treating a variety of different malocclusions in children and adults in a state-of-the-art facility, and an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving.
Participation in an original research project is required with results that are suitable for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal in order to complete the program.
A M.S. degree in Oral Sciences is awarded at the end of the program. A customized option is available for those who are interested in obtaining a Ph.D. degree with the certificate. The program accepts up to 9 applicants each year.
Upon completion of the program, a Specialty Certificate in Orthodontics is awarded as well as a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Oral Sciences. The program’s content follows ERASMUS recommendations.
UIC Orthodontics Advanced Specialty Training Program
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Orthodontics Advanced Specialty Training Program page.
Comments from current residents
“We’re the only Orthodontics residency program in IL, which makes it very competitive. It’s very important to maintain a respectable GPA and CV throughout your time in dental school…In terms of CV boosters, definitely pursue things like research, volunteering, student organizations.”
“We see a lot of the complex cases and sometimes patients come to us from long distances , which makes the work really rewarding."
-- Nisha Garg, Orthodontics Resident
The UIC Department of Pediatric Dentistry provides a full range of oral health services for children of all ages including those with complex and special needs. The department’s clinics are dedicated to providing dental education and access to all children including those from underserved Chicago communities.
Recent renovations and developments have reshaped the department tremendously. A newly renovated graduate clinic features 20 operatories, including 8 private rooms, which directly serve a diverse population of patients in the state. Every operatory is well-equipped with new systems, including digital radiography, nitrous oxide, and a monitor and computer system.
The department’s full-time Pediatric Dentistry Gradate Residency Program is 2 years in length and awards a Certificate in the Specialty of Pediatric Dentistry with an optional Master of Science in Oral Sciences degree. The residency program is integrated with an optional Master of Science in Oral Sciences degree, and both can be completed concurrently within the 2-year period. Up to 9 residents are accepted into the program each year.
The program is comprehensive and university-based with a hospital affiliation. Residents participate in the clinical care of healthy and medically complex infants, children, and adolescents. Students will receive significant training in principles of behavior management, sedation, general anesthesia and after-hours emergency dental care.
Various rotations in pediatric and subspecialty medical clinics are featured in the program, including Oncology, Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, General Pediatrics, and more. Lectures, seminars, literature review, and case conferences are incorporated into the curriculum. There is a research requirement which encompasses approximately 10% of the program. The program also places a strong emphasis on developing graduates for teaching, clinical care, research, service, advocacy, and other career paths.
Students who complete the program will receive a Certificate in the Specialty of Pediatric Dentistry. The department offers this two-year certificate program with an optional Master of Science (M.S.) in Oral Sciences. Students will also be eligible to pursue board certification through the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry upon graduation.
UIC Pediatric Dentistry Graduate Residency Program
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Pediatric Dentistry Graduate Residency Program page
Tips for Preparing for the Program from UIC Residents
For a successful application, UIC pediatric dentistry resident Samantha Cordell recommends being proactive finding by mentors or professors who can provide high quality, detailed letters of recommendation. “Focus on getting good letters of recommendation. It can really set you apart if all the numbers are there." She also recommends spending as much time as possible on your personal statement: “You want lots of people to read it because what sounds good to you may sound really awful to someone else."
Resident Matthew Strumpf says that the UIC program is excellent preparation for private practice for several reasons: “This is a good program to prepare for private practice because we get a large volume of patients and we’re seeing a lot of trauma, and a lot of urgent care."
Tips from the Program Director
"Beyond the clinical and academic credentials, we really value having a group of residents with unique backgrounds and interests that all complement one another. It's that combination of academic, clinical and public health aspirations that makes our team truly special. And, since we're a pediatric program, an immersion in pediatric dentistry and a track record of working with kids really elevates the applicant."
-- David Avenetti, Program Director, UIC Pediatric Dentistry Graduate Residency Program
The UIC Department of Periodontics participates in cutting-edge periodontal research, education and service missions. Research efforts are aimed at advancing the understanding of how periodontal disease is linked to other chronic illnesses with innovative basic, translational and clinical approaches.
Esteemed faculty members such as Luisa A. DiPietro contribute to groundbreaking research in areas such as inflammation, immunology, wound healing and scar formation. Other areas of research focus in the department include diabetes, cancer biology, dental and periodontal implant materials.
The department offers a Periodontics Postgraduate Program that is 33-months in length and full-time, resulting in a Certificate of Proficiency in Periodontics. It encompasses research and clinical experience, surgical placement of implants, and dealing with the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of periodontal diseases in adults.
The ultimate goal of the program is to fully prepare students for a future in periodontics with a strong educational foundation and offer them the opportunity to contribute to influential research efforts.
A choice between a Master of Science (M.S.) in Oral Sciences or Ph.D. in Oral Sciences degree track is available, either of which can be completed concurrently with the certificate program. The program accepts up to 4 applicants each year.
Upon completion of the program, a Certificate of Proficiency in Periodontics is provided. Those who choose the M.S. or Ph.D. track will be eligible for those degrees upon meeting research, thesis and curriculum requirements.
UIC Periodontics Postgraduate Program
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Periodontics Postgraduate Program page
Tips for Preparing for the Program from UIC Residents
Periodontics post-graduate programs are competitive. UIC periodontics resident Chris Traxler says getting shadowing experience in dental school is helpful when possible to increase your chances of acceptance: “I tried to get into the perio clinic at my dental school as often as I could. I was there pretty much weekly shadowing all the residents…I just wanted to make sure it was something I wanted to, but I also wanted to be able to talk intelligently about it,” he says. He also recommends mock interviews to help prepare along with learning as much as possible about perio: “Try to learn as much as possible about it…and do some mock interviews ahead of time."
Details About the Specialty and Program from UIC Residents
Clinical experiences are a core part of the program according to Traxler: “The main objective and what really separates perio apart from other specialties is saving teeth. “We're in the clinic every day, at least three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. It’s a long day, but it’s manageable. Also, perio is very heavy in lit [literature]. We do a lot of lit reviews. We have weekly classes where we go through critical reviews of the literature, across a wide range of different topics, such as imaging and implants. Then we also do a current lit review where we focus on things more current as well."
The UIC Department of Restorative Dentistry is extensive and includes over 115 part-time and full-time faculty and staff. It plays a leading role in the implementation of advanced technologies for patient assessment, diagnosis, planning and care, including clinical and biomaterials research.
New clinical facilities, seminar areas, and laboratories were recently opened in the department with state-of-the art scanners, prosthetic milling equipment, and methods to implement digital work flows. The department is highly regarded for its state of the art programs and curricula that are supported by an evidence based decision-making philosophy.
The department offers an intensive post graduate Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics. The full-time program is a minimum of 35 months in length. Students can opt to simultaneously pursue additional courses and research experience to earn a Master of Science in Oral Sciences degree.
During the program, students learn integrated prosthetic, surgical and digital technology approaches to address restorative therapy for the most complex patients, including patients with dental implants. Access to intraoral scanners including Trios3, Dental Wings IOS, and PlanMeca, as well as lab scanners including 3shape and DentalWings, are an integral part of the program and robust learning experiences. The class size allows for an engaging learning environment and customized training that is focused on excellence for patient care. Students also participate in leading-edge prosthodontics research opportunities and assist with teaching pre-doctoral students.
The goal of the program is to produce well-rounded clinical scholars and promote flexible interests in specialties and career goals within Prosthodontics such as implant restoration, surgical ability, fixed prosthodontic esthetics, and more. All students complete a research project. The program is developing future leaders for clinical dentistry and Prosthodontics and accepts up to 10 applicants each year.
Upon completion, students receive the Specialty Certificate in Prosthodontics and become eligible to pursue the American Board of Prosthodontics Certifying Examination. Participants who opt for the Master of Science in Oral Sciences degree will receive it upon completing additional curriculum and research requirements.
UIC Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics Program
For more information including tuition, dates and application requirements, visit the Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics program page
Tips for Preparing for the Program from UIC Residents
UIC prosthodontics resident Samira Salari recommends checking whether the prost programs you are interested in offer a master’s degree: “One thing to pay attention to when looking for prost programs is to see if they offer a master’s degree. All the programs basically give you a certificate for prosthodontics or either have the master’s as an option, while some programs don’t offer the master’s degree. So, if that matters to you, you want to look into that,” she suggests. For those who aren’t sure if the specialty is worth pursuing,
She advises to be prepared for long hours during each year of the program: “It is a very intensive three years that trains you how to handle anything...we are here long hours working on our cases. It's a lot of diagnosis and treatment planning. You get a lot of complex cases, so you have to spend a lot of time planning them and figuring out what you’re going to do before you actually do it…There’s digital planning…planning for surgeries, it’s all basically prosthetically driven. You want to know where you want to end up, and you plan your surgeries and your implants based on the final outcome that you were hoping for,” she explains.
UIC prosthodontics resident Yale Cho found the career paths to be widely varied and versatile: “Basically, prost is very spread out. You can do so many things as a prosthodontist. Our dean for example is a prosthodontist. There are a lot of researchers that are prosthodontists…You can do organized dentistry as well. So, there are a lot of career paths in it."
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